Beyond The Sari-A Guide to Indian Dress

Guide for Sari-A to Indian Dress

I’ve wanted a sari ever since I spent 6 months living in Dubai watching Indian music videos while working out at the Dubai Creek Country Club. Later in 2004, I watched “Bride & Prejudice” starring the stunning Aishwarya Rai, and renewed my fascination with Indian fashion.

Now I have a cousin who recently married a young man from Kashmir, and she makes frequent trips to India so I really should take advantage of this connection and have her bring me one.

The Sari

The great thing about the sari is that it is not cut or tailored for a specific size. It is simply a long piece of fabric, usually cotton or silk. I would have to send my measurement to get a properly fitting choli, the short and snug top that is worn underneath the sari.

The Salwar-Kameez

Another popular outfit for women in India is the salwar-kameez. The salwar is a pair of baggy pants, like pyjamas that are tight at the waist and ankles.

The kameez, a long loose tunic, is worn over the salwars. The kameez is also paired with snug fitting legging style pants called churidar.

The Kurta

The churidar, in turn is more likely to be worn with a top called a kurta, which is a collarless or mandarin collared tunic.

The kurti is a shorter version of the kurta. It has become a wardrobe staple because they are comfortable and light, kind of like a long t-shirt made of light silk. They are worn by women of all ages, and are often worn with jeans or churidars.

Not Mainstream

Considering the fact that Bollywood produces more films every year than Hollywood, and their audience is larger, it’s amazing that Indian dress is not more mainstream. Spend a few minutes googling images of salwar-kameez and you’ll wonder why you can’t get one at the mall!

Expensive and exclusive designers like Tory Burch sell a version of the kurta that is out of the price range for the average person. I’ll be interested to see if she offers a lower priced one when her holiday line comes out at Target next month.

Gold Jewelry and Ornaments

Gold is believed to purify all that it touches, so it is a big part of Indian fashion, and some form of gold jewelry is worn against the skin at all times. Bangles are thought to be protective, so they have long been popular.

Earrings and studs are popular all over the country, and infant girls usually have their ears pierced before their first birthday.

The nose pin is generally considered to be a symbol of purity and marriage, but modern, unmarried girls have begun to wear one.

There is a necklace called a mangalsutra, which is worn only by married women and is the equivalent to our wedding ring in the west. In India, traditionally a woman would put on the mangalsutra during her wedding, and then only remove it after her husband’s death.

Jewelry for the feet, such as toe rings and anklets, are usually made of silver, because gold is considered to be too pure to be worn on the feet. One piece of jewelry that is no longer as commonly worn is the mangatika, or tikli. It is the small pendant worn at the top of the forehead where the hair parts. It was traditionally worn as a symbol of marriage.


It is very interesting that makeup is used both to enhance natural beauty, and also to mar it. A mother will begin applying eyeliner, called kajal, to a child from the time she is six days old, but she will also apply a small black dot on the child’s forehead because this small imperfection is supposed to protect her from evil.

L. Evans is a freelance writer currently living in California. Evans has lived in Dubai where she spent time with a group of Kannada speaking sailors.